FAYETTEVILLE >> Totem Pole Playhouse has without a doubt outdone itself.
The play is Shenandoah, a 1975 musical based on the 1965 film starring Jimmy Stewart — and it came close to bringing down the house.
Both are based on the tale of Charlie Anderson, played by Ben Davis, a Virginia farmer and widower who adamantly refuses to have any part of the coming American Civil War. He is drawn into it when one of his sons, the youngest, is kidnapped. There is more death but the writers were wise enough not to make Shenandoah a bloodbath. There is plenty of humor, too, but too much information will dampen the plot.
Let me just say that there are some singing, lyrics and melodies that will leave you thinking you are in some glittering theater in The Big Apple and not in a small, non-profit theater in the Pennsylvania boonies. The musical, led by Davis' stunningly powerful voice, is, as the program says, "A heart-warming, bittersweet tale of family & country, patriotism & parenthood," set to a fine score played by an astonishingly good band that seems to have a lot more instruments than the seven one can count from the seats.
Davis, who received a Special Tony Award Honor for his work in Baz Luhrmann's Broadway production of La Boheme, carries the heart of the performance at the head of a cast of 25 formidable actors. With a voice that seemed likely to stretch the size of the theater, Davis opened with a thundering manifesto on the waste and foolishness of war, "I've Seen it All Before," and later a wistful "Papa's Gonna Make It All Right."
Everybody in the cast did an exemplary job singing, but this reviewer has to give a special note to Brandon Glatfelter of Gettysburg (Boy) and Leshan Wilkinson, (Gabriel) whose duet "Why Am I Me," is one of the highlights of the production.
Now celebrating its 65th season, Totem Pole, located in Caledonia State Park between Gettysburg and Chambersburg, will continue the practice it began last season of offering student rush tickets. Any unsold seats one-half hour prior to the start of each performance will go on sale for $10 to those between 16 and 22 years old.
Shenandoah runs through July 5. Tickets range from $30 to $4 with matinee performances Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and evening performances Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Franklin County Visitors Bureau serves as sponsor of the 2015 season, with the musical co-sponsored by Paul D. Orange Family Medicine.